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Chat Leftovers: On your Thanksgiving table

November already; can you believe it? And Wednesday already, too: time for the weekly Free Range chat. It's the one hour every week when you have the undivided attention of Food section staffers and special guests, who await your questions about all things culinary.

Recipe Included

Did today's story about sauerkraut make you want to start shredding mounds of cabbage? Join us at noon to chat with Bonnie North, who oversees the fermenting of the sauerkraut that Gertrude's restaurant in Baltimore serves every year at its Kraut Fest. She devotes considerable time and basement space to the effort, so she's the perfect person to deal with any kraut queries.

On to business. Most weeks at this time, we answer a leftover question from the previous week's chat. But for the next few weeks, we'll use this space to address your Thanksgiving cooking questions. If you've got 'em, e-mail us or leave them in the comments section under this blog post, and we'll try to get to them. Here we go:

What size turkey would you buy for 10 adults? My brother-in-law suggests 25 pounds, but that seems huge to me!

Some folks look forward to the leftovers almost as much as they do the Thanksgiving turkey. (Renee Comet)

Your brother-in-law must be one hungry guy. Either that, or he's looking forward to a ton of leftovers. Your instincts are right: 25 pounds is way more than adequate. Two years ago I fed 10 for Thanksgiving with a 15-pound bird, and as I recall, no one went hungry. And we squeezed a few sandwiches out of it the next day.

Of course there are variables to consider when choosing poundage. Do you want leftovers, or would they just be a nuisance? Will there be a lot of big eaters at the table? Will any of the 10 be dieting? Will some be children?

The Butterball folks, who pride themselves on their Thanksgiving turkey advice, have a feature on the homepage of their Web site called Plan Perfect Portions. You enter the number of adults and children who'll be eating turkey, specify whether you want leftovers and can even plug in whether you tend to eat a lot or a little. The feature calculates the size of the turkey you'll need AND tells you how much stuffing to make. According to Butterball, for 10 adults with normal appetites and an interest in leftovers, you should buy a 15-pound bird and make 30 ounces (or 11 cups) of stuffing. So tell that to your brother-in-law. I shudder to think how long it would take to roast a 25-pound bird.

This year we will have two vegetarian attendees, and I’m at a loss. Any idea for one or two new dishes I can add to the menu that are hearty enough for the veggies but also yummy for the other folks?

Lasagna can be made in so many ways that you're sure to find one that'll please your guests. (Renee Comet)

Absolutely. How about that all-American tradition, lasagna?

Didn't know it was an American tradition? Neither did I until my colleague Bonnie Benwick mentioned that she'd just read about it in a book called "Giving Thanks," by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver and Plimouth Plantation (the living history museum). The authors write: "One of the most surprising items on the modern Thanksgiving menu is lasagna .... [it] has become so integrated into the landscape of American food that newcomers perceive it as American, and therefore as suitable for Thanksgiving as turkey and cranberry sauce."

A great thing about most lasagnas is that they can be assembled and cooked in advance, and then reheated when you want them, so you don't have to be baking it at the same time you're trying to get the turkey roasted.

I have a favorite butternut squash lasagna that would be perfect as a main course for the vegetarians and a side dish for the carnivores. Whenever I serve it, people ask for the recipe. Like many lasagnas, it's time-consuming to make, but I'm told you can use the frozen butternut squash chunks as a shortcut and they work fine. One more caveat: It's not diet food. But it's for Thanksgiving, a good day to splurge.

Butternut Squash Lasagna
6 main dish or 12 side-dish servings

MAKE AHEAD: You can make the squash/sauce up to 3 days in advance, then assemble and bake.

3 pounds butternut squash (about 9 1/2 cups flesh), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Coarse kosher salt
4 cups low-fat milk
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
9 no-boil lasagna sheets (7 by 3 1/2 inches each; use fresh ones if you can find them)
1 1/3 cups (about 5 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil.

Toss the diced squash with the oil in a large bowl until well coated. Spread in a single layer on the baking sheets. Roast for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with salt to taste. Stir the squash and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender and beginning to turn golden brown.

While the squash is roasting, heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the rosemary and cook for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a large pitcher or measuring cup.

Melt the butter with the garlic in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the warm milk mixture in a steady stream, stirring until smooth. Return the pan to medium-low or low heat and cook about 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Add the squash, salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. (At this point, the mixture can be refrigerated in a bowl with plastic wrap directly on the surface.)

When ready to bake, reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Pour 1 cup of the squash-sauce mixture in the bottom of the dish (it will not cover completely). Cover with 3 lasagna sheets, making sure they are not touching each other. Spread half of the remaining sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the Parmesan. Repeat with another layer of pasta, then the remaining sauce, then another 1/2 cup of Parmesan, and finally a layer of pasta on top.

Combine the cream and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low to start then on high for several minutes until stiff peaks form. Spread evenly over the top pasta layer, making sure to cover the pasta completely. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Cover tightly with easy-release/no stick aluminum foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, then bake for 10 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and golden. Let the lasagna stand 5 minutes before serving.

Here are two others: Vegetarian Roasted Mushroom Lasagna is a rich, cheesy concoction that's ideal for the holiday. And Golden Gruyere, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna would also be great, as long as you omit the 4 ounces of ham from the recipe. Check these out and see if they don't seem perfect for your Thanksgiving spread.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  November 4, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers , Recipes  | Tags: Free Range, Jane Touzalin, Thanksgiving, mushrooms, squash, turkey, vegetarian  
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The term vegetarian gets used pretty loosely...if they are the type that eats seafood, I'd suggest a good piece of fish on the charcoal grill, or steaming/grilling a couple of nice big lobsters with some clams and corn (though that might make people eating turkey jealous). If your grocery store doesn't have them, Legal Seafoods and other places you can find online will ship them fresh if it's worth it to you.

Speaking of lobster...we made lobster mashed potatoes one recent Thanksgiving and it ruined mashed potatoes for me b/c they're just not as good plain - google the recipe.

If they don't eat seafood, you could also make eggplant parmesan. I've gravitated to the recipe that's in the "Sopranos Family Cookbook" of all things b/c it tastes awfully similar to the incredible eggplant at the Italian Store in Arlington if you do it right. (If you're the shameless type you could also just pick up a few containers at the Italian Store, heat it all up in a casserole dish, and tell them you made it.)

If they're vegans, then my suggestions and the lasagna in the article won't cut it, and I don't have any ideas but there are plenty of recipes out there on the web.

Posted by: duffy_moon | November 4, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

At the risk of being annoying, I will note that I have yet to see a vegetarian parmesan, as they are all made with "enzymes" (rennet), so really are not OK for some vegetarians. I'd feel awful if someone went to that trouble for me, and I ended up pushing it around my plate because, really, I cannot eat rennet, as it involves killing a cow.

I usually offer to bring a main course everyone can enjoy, but I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of a host like your poster.

This site has a lot of ideas, , as does the latest issue on the newsstand. It has several wonderful holiday recipes that everyone will enjoy.

Posted by: egengle | November 4, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I should add to my eggplant suggestion that I find it comes out best if you make the marinara sauce yourself following the recipe that's also in the book instead of jarred - it's really easy too.

Posted by: duffy_moon | November 4, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

and in case people are not familiar (and apropos of last week's story on veal):

Posted by: egengle | November 4, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

The lasagna recipe would work for a lacto-ovo vegetarian, but not for a true vegetarian.

Posted by: janedoe5 | November 5, 2009 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Janedoe5, actually not quite. I am a true vegetarian, and eat milk and eggs (cruelty free, organic, etc). I don't eat cheese made with rennet, however, as it involves killing an animal. Lacto-ovo just means egg and milk, not meat byproducts such as rennet.

Posted by: egengle | November 5, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

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